Staff Picks: Sterling K. Brown, ‘The Crucible,’ and Beach House’s Installation


Need a great book to read, album to listen to, or TV show to get hooked on? The Flavorwire team is here to help: in this weekly feature, our editorial staffers recommend the cultural object or experience they’ve enjoyed most in the past seven days. Scroll through for our picks below.

Sterling K. Brown on the People v. OJ Simpson finale

Brown and Sarah Paulson have been the MVPs of American Crime Story‘s first season — and not just because we were all rooting so hard for their characters, Christopher Darden and Marcia Clark, to get together. But last night’s season finale belonged to Brown, who shined in two particular scenes: one in which Darden is overcome with emotion during a post-verdict press conference, and the other in his final, heated confrontation with Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) over the racial implications of the case. The People v. OJ Simpson has been Brown��s breakout moment; last night all but guaranteed him a richly deserved Emmy nomination. — Judy Berman, Editor-in-Chief

Magic Mike XXL Forever

For the first time in a long time, I have cable TV, and what a blessing that its return to my life coincides with the broadcasting of Magic Mike XXL. The shaggier sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s 2012 film Magic Mike — starring Channing Tatum as a Tampa stripper, and based on his real experiences stripping— Magic Mike XXL abandons the notion of plot and sets its crew of hunks on a road trip to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. Do you want to see Tatum, Adam Rodriguez, Joe Manganiello, et al dry-hump average-looking girls across glittery stages? This is the film for you.

This movie has been airing on premium cable for weeks, maybe months, a ray of sunshine in the middle of a cold, grey winter. I liked it enough when I saw it in theaters over the summer, but I guess I didn’t realize just how much I liked it, because I find myself unable to resist it when I see it’s on TV. Magic Mike XXL might not be the best movie of 2015, but unlike other stellar 2015 offerings, this is the one I want to see again and again. The best part about watching it on TV: you can fast-forward the dull flirtation between Tatum and Amber Heard and skip to the parts where the brawny bros make dreams come true. — Lara Zarum, Contributor, TV

“Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible” exhibition at the Met Breuer

When is an artwork “done”? It’s a question that forms the foundation of one of the most intriguing art exhibits I’ve ever seen. The show first looks at works left unfinished unintentionally (by the artist’s death or abandonment), giving a “behind the scenes” glimpse into their creators’ process and thoughts. But the exhibition also includes works left unfinished on purpose: Cezanne, for example, pioneered a style that left some of the canvas unpainted which looked rough and strange to his contemporaries’ eyes. The show then shifts to more recent decades, with works that address both transience and decay along with infinity and boundlessness. I found Felix Gonzales-Torres’ Untitled particularly thought-provoking. The exhibition requires more work than the usual visit to the museum: The viewer must fill in the blanks, imagine the artist’s intent, or even participate in the artworks themselves. It’s a unique look at the world of art that may never be replicated. The show runs through September 4 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new branch at 75th and Madison in New York. — Jason Ginsburg, Social Media Editor

The Gong Show Movie on Blu-ray

Here’s how weird mainstream moviemaking was in 1980: Chuck Barris actually got a major studio to pay him to direct, co-write, and star in a feature film version of his notorious syndicated no-talent show. Of course, it was critically drubbed and commercially ignored; in fact, it never saw so much as a VHS release, to say nothing of DVD or Blu-ray. But that all changed last week, thanks to the fine folks at Shout Factory, and the long-buried film is… well, it’s certainly something! Co-scripted by legendary subversive (and Iron Man’s dad) Robert Downey, it’s as discombobulated as an episode of the show, formatted as a week in the life of the perpetually harried creator/producer/host but interrupted by “too hot for TV” outtakes, bloopers, and greatest hits from the show, plus Barris’ own questionable country music stylings. It’s only fitfully funny (and that’s putting it mildly), and Barris is a charisma vacuum. But it’s has its moments, including a Fellini-esque “desert song” finale, and his encounters with hostile would-be contestants and fans flirt with some darker, timely themes (it was released a few scant months before John Lennon’s murder). It’s a cult curio at best, but a worthwhile companion piece to the terrific Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, a fascinating time capsule, and a welcome reminder that dubious celebrity and noxious reality television are anything but a recent phenomenon. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

Ben Whishaw and Sophie Okonedo in The Crucible on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre

Ivo Van Hove’s rendition of the Crucible was a strange thing — not because it was meant to be unconventional, but rather because the execution of its “unconventionality” seemed hackneyed while the more conventional, emotionally charged and linear acting is what brought it vivacity. Von Hove’s deconstructions (a set that can explode! a classroom setting! bland period-neutral sweaters!), to an extent, make the bridge between McCarthyism and the Salem Witch Trials collapse without offering up a cohesive reason for do doing. (If you’re going to alter the aesthetic so drastically, the changes should cohere to enhance rather than muddy an already complex historical bridge.) But even the conceptual foibles couldn’t overwhelm the director’s simultaneous, exquisite work with his actors. Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda) and Ben Whishaw (London Spy) applied their tremendous talents to crafting — with Von Hove — such profoundly likable characters. While John Proctor may seem written as arrogant and Elizabeth Proctor may seem written as plain, the actors thankfully resist these interpretations, making the Proctors the coolest couple colonial Salem (or whatever no-man’s-land this production takes place in) has ever seen. Speaking against the smothering hypocrisies of the church with reason and kindness, Okonedo and Whishaw set the horrifically sad conclusions of the Salem Witch Trials up to be all the more emotionally wrenching. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor

Beach House’s Installation Show at the Knockdown Center

Beach House are a band that sounds best in the dark, in bed, either in the morning or at the end of the day, therapy to wind down either way. And so I’ve avoided seeing them live, afraid the spell wouldn’t translate to reality, squelched by the curse of New York live music, which is that it must be experienced with other New Yorkers. The band’s recent installation show at the Knockdown Center tried its best to recreate solitude. Staged in an enclosed area of the industrial space, audience members were asked to sit on the concrete floor, around a projector and facing a main stage that was at first shrouded in fog that shifted from red to blue. Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally performed there as a two-piece, emerging from the fog and playing behind a screen as images of baroque flower collage were projected onto them. For a time, an adjacent wall of jarred plants came to life with light, the physical manifestation of Legrand’s luminous vocals. It was beautiful, truly. And then it wasn’t, thanks to the scenesters in leather jackets who, several times, broke the no-camera rule to take selfies, flipping their hair into my mouth in preparation for the perfect pose, their shifting hands, feet, and knees landing on my own, transforming my own safe space into a crowded train, making me wish I were at home, in bed, by myself, and not a 25 minute cab ride away. — Shane Barnes, Associate Editor

HTC Vive

Even the most mundane activities feel new in virtual reality, so it’s easy to lose of track of time. I spent a couple of hours this week inside the HTC Vive, and many of the games I played involved doing normal, real-world things; I played mini-golf, I cooked bacon and eggs, I danced like a ballerina (in theory). I also shot little flying robots and trained to be a space pirate, so not everything was completely run-of-the-mill.

Unlike its better known competitor, the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive comes with unique motion-based controllers, and room-scaling technology, which allows you to actually walk around, rather than move via analog sticks. Your brain makes all the right logical leaps to trick your instincts into believing the virtual world is real. The result, you never lose sight of the fact virtual reality is fake, but you also completely forget that there’s a “real world” somewhere else.

That tech makes the Vive even more expensive than the Rift — $800 for the set, which requires a powerful PC to work properly. If you have the cash to buy one or, better yet, a way to try it out for yourself, using the Vive is something worth going out of your way to experience. — Michael Epstein, Editorial Apprentice